Friday, August 27, 2010

Some thoughts on Women's Hockey

Got a minute on my morning break here, thought I'd talk a little bit about women's hockey. Now, I'll be VERY honest here is saying I'm not a fan of women's hockey. I find it slow, I don't like the "No checking" thing, and it's just not the same as mens professional hockey.

Now, it isn't mentioned as much in this article I have copied from, but I was following Haley Wickenheiser's comments from her speech at the Hockey Summit in Toronto yesterday. I saw "money needs to be put in place to make this work". Well, while I do agree that money generally makes things work, let's ask ourselves... is this REALLY what we want to put our money in? When unemployment is at an alltime high? When our children are going to school hungry? (I think I've mentioned that one before)

To me, if something needs someone else to pay for it to make it work, then there really needs to be some thought on whether or not it should be put into motion. With so many "real" needs for money in this world, why are we considering putting MORE money into something like women's hockey? I'm not just picking on women's hockey either, it's just what brought this to mind. Artists who live from handout to handout
from provincial and municipal governments, sports teams and leagues in general that do much of the same.

Think about it. Think about that time you or anyone else may have been without a job. Nobody was giving you a handout to get through. You would likely have to take a job out of your field to just get by. You had to do what you had to do to get by. Period. There's no free money for you. EI? You paid for EI when you WERE working. Why do these people get to ask the governments of our world for money and think it's perfectly ok?

Provide a quality product and people will pay for it. Don't say it's a good product and make people feel they should support it. Actually BE good, and it'll happen on it's own. Develop the product properly. It will happen. Don't beg for money better spent elsewhere and say that will fix it.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who disagree with me. So, go to a school, look at that skinny kid not eating and tell me that women's hockey is more important.



The questions zipped by like slapshots off the glass, reporters pressed in tight with their interest piqued and their microphones raised, demanding answers about the idea of a women's professional super hockey league.

Is it viable? Would it make any money? Who would pay for it? Would the NHL be involved? Is this the way to fix the growing competitive imbalance in the women's Olympic tournament?

While so many of the questions remain unanswered, it was one of the ideas set forth on Thursday at the World Hockey Summit by a panel of some of the most successful and influential people in the women's international game.

Disappointed by the lopsided scores in the women's tournament at the Vancouver Olympics, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said in February that there must be competitive improvement at the Games or women will no longer compete in Olympic hockey.

The panelists at this summit say they will do everything possible to save the women's Olympic game, including a women's pro league operated in North America for the world's best players. And this week as the world is gathered for this summit, they have been able to bend the ear of the NHL on the topic.

“I was in a meeting just this week with the NHL and some stakeholders in women's hockey, and I think we have the ear of the NHL,” said four-time Canadian Olympic hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, who said she envisions playing in such a league herself and later acting in a management role. “They need to look at this not necessarily as a business plan right now but as an investor or at a sponsorship level to get it off the ground and get it growing.

“They are legitimately interested. If you look at team sports in the world, to my knowledge, most of the professional women's leagues really struggle. So in hockey, we have to learn from that and figure out a way for women's hockey, so it actually works and makes sense.”

North America currently has a couple of prominent women's hockey leagues, most notably the Canadian Women's Hockey League, which is a five-team league that plays in the greater Toronto area, Montreal and Boston and boasts several Olympians. The CWHL held its first player draft in August, selecting mostly North American players as well as six Europeans.

Advocates of an enhanced pro league, including Wickenheiser, have been huddling with NHL representatives this week at the summit. Former Canadian Olympic goalie Sami Jo Small is one of the founders of the CWHL and a current player in the league. She sat at a table with Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke during Thursday's women's hockey brainstorming session on Thursday, and was thrilled by his enthusiasm to help grow the women's game.

“I was fortunate enough to sit at his table, and he's so supportive of the game,” said Small. “This is not women's hockey versus men's hockey, and he had great ideas to move this forward.

“We don't have to re-write the book, because men's hockey has been through this, and we can follow the NHL's experience. We don't want to move too fast. First let's support the women we have in the league, take out transfer fees so more European players can come over here to play, and lets have a plan in place once we get players over here, so they can live and play here.”

Wickenheiser presented some startling statistics about the funding and resources being allotted to the world's female teams, explaining why other nations simply cannot compete at this game so largely dominated by Canada and the United States, who have been in three of the four Olympic finals together. While Canada boasts 85,624 registered female hockey players and the U.S. has 60,104, Finland has just 4,694, Sweden has 3,642 and China only has a mere 169. There are just six rinks where women play hockey in all of China, and only five clubs. Just four of the participating Olympic nations have a director dedicated to women's hockey. Just seven teams have a plan already in place for their women's team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Canada's annual national team operating budget before the 2010 Games was $1.7 million. Sweden's was $547,589. Swedish Coach Peter Elander, also a panelist at the summit, noted that the University of North Dakota's women's team, where he is now an associate coach, has twice the yearly operating budget that his Swedish team has.

“I opened the door for Rogge to criticize us when my team played so terribly against Canada at the Olympics,” said Elander of Sweden's surprising 13-1 loss to Canada. “Women's teams are last on the agenda to most federations, and that has to change. If we don't have a best-of-the-best league operating in North America after Sochi, I think that the gap is going to get way too big.”

Another panelist, U.S. coach Mark Johnson, who coaches at the University of Wisconsin, has seen the level of parity change in a few short years in NCAA women's hockey, so he is convinced it can happen internationally. With players from all over the world now coming to play college hockey, and some staying on to coach after graduating, there is much more competitive balance.

“You used to know the outcome of a Wisconsin-Bemidji State game before the puck was dropped, but now they can beat us,” said Johnson.

“If there is an opportunity to play overseas in North America, it will be great for our players as long as we know all about it and their parents do their homework on it,” said Arto Sieppi, GM of the Finnish women's team that won bronze medal at the 2010 Games, the first medal for Finland in women's Olympic hockey. “We need to educate our parents about their daughters playing overseas to make sure it's a good fit. I would guess that by 2014, about 12-14 of our Olympic players will be playing at U.S. colleges or in North America.”

Other ideas tossed out included urging every competing nation to hire their own dedicated women's hockey director, playing more games against male competition, having international coach exchanges, sharing best practices and having transfer fees waived for players to go play in other countries.

With three and a half years until the Sochi Olympics, the panelists were eager to get to work and prove that women's hockey should never be dropped from the Olympic program.

“Everyone deserves the chance to live the dream,” said Canadian coach Melody Davidson during the panel discussion. “So I say to the men in this room who have daughters, wives, or sisters, why would you deny the women in your life this chance?”

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